Are You The Bottleneck?

At a recent industry meeting an entrepreneur was asked, “What’s the greatest challenge you face in your business?” He replied, “Me, I’m the bottleneck. When I see that something isn’t working, I jump in and try to fix it.”

Learning to let go of the reins is difficult, but you’ve got to do it to grow your business! Called, “Bottleneck Syndrome,” business leaders must develop confidence in their staff, so as not to jump in or micromanage every task, effectively slowing down progress. But that’s easier said than done!

If you find yourself being the bottleneck, read the One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey by Kenneth Blanchard, William Oncken, Jr., and Hall Burrows. This brilliant little book describes the experience of a successful individual performer who gets promoted to a management position. While he and his team start off strong, eventually the reverse happens and their performance degrades.

A Vicious Cycle

The problem is that the new manager takes on the tasks of his staff members. With the mentality of supporting his people, he sends the message that it’s OK to ask for help. As a result, they start giving their “monkeys” (next moves on a project, problem, or opportunity) away to the new manager, who becomes the official owner of them.

Unfortunately, his behavior sends a message that staff members are not capable of handling the task, and the byproduct leads to an erosion of their self-esteem and confidence. Unknowingly, the new manager’s behavior creates a downward spiral where he increasingly receives the monkeys of his staff members. While drowning in monkeys, he has less and less time for his own work, so ends up working late and throughout the weekends, which negatively affects his family and his health. The book asks:

“Why is it that some managers are typically running out of time while their staff is running out of work?”

The Awakening  

Eventually, through a series of events, the new manager awakens to the fact that his staff members aren’t working for him, but he is working for them! He reflects on how becoming “indispensable” is actually harming his team – disempowering them from learning to take responsibility and slowing down progress by taking on too many monkeys. Worse, he neglects his own responsibilities as a manager, negatively impacting his position with the company.

Ultimately, the new manager has a huge shift in his mindset – from measuring himself on how much he achieves to measuring himself on what his team achieves. He learns to replace the psychological rewards of doing with the rewards of managing.

Step by step, the book, One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey, describes how managers can free themselves from doing everyone else’s job, ensuring that problems are handled by the right person. It offers four simple rules that lead to good monkey management:

1. Describe the monkey. A boss and staff member shall not part company until the appropriate “next moves” have been identified and specified.

2. Assign the monkey. The dialogue between the boss and staff member must not end until the ownership of each monkey is assigned to a person.

3. Insure the monkey. The dialogue between the boss and staff member shall not end until all monkeys have been insured, giving the staff member the authority and freedom to handle their monkey.

  • There are two monkey insurance policies:

           Level 1. Recommend, then act. In cases where a staff member could make an unaffordable mistake, staff must formulate recommendations that the boss must approve before they proceed, thus reducing risk.
           Level 2. Act, then advise. This is for monkeys that staff can handle on their own, and inform the boss afterward at whatever time they think is important. Level 2 is the preferred form of insurance.

4. Check on the monkey. The dialogue between the boss and staff member shall not end until the monkey has a check-up appointment. This means setting a time for follow-up discussions.

If you’re running your business on the Entrepreneurial Operation System, the Four Rules of Monkey Management will help you Delegate to Elevate – the process of learning to coach people so you can delegate to them.

Ironically, by effectively using the skill of delegation, you’ll need to use less of the Four Rules of Monkey Management, as your staff members become more self-reliant. Eventually, they will follow the Four Rules to manage others – freeing up time for the higher-level activity required of your position as a leader. At the same time, your people will enjoy the benefits of self-management – more job satisfaction, more energy, higher productivity, and improved morale.

A final rule of thumb to use:

“Hands-off management as much as possible and hands-on management as much as necessary.”

One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey is ultimately a time-management tool for leaders who have a tendency to work longer hours and harder than the rest of the company, due to taking on everyone else’s work as well as their own.

How many monkeys are you carrying?

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